By remaining silent on a crucial issue concerning terminally ill patients, the Centre is trying to abdicate its responsibility.
Published Date – 12:25 AM, Thu – 26 January 23
Hyderabad: The right to die with dignity is no less important than the right to live. The recognition of an individual’s right to exercise bodily autonomy is a sign of maturity in any evolved society. ‘Living will’ empowers individuals of sound mind and health to leave explicit instructions in advance about the medical treatment to be administered when they become terminally ill and can declare in advance that their life must not be prolonged if they slide into a vegetative state. The Supreme Court’s recent order removing the condition that mandated a magistrate’s approval for withholding of life support to a terminally ill person is a welcome move. The apex court has rightly pulled up the Centre for failing to enact a law on passive euthanasia in accordance with its 2018 judgement upholding the right to death with dignity. By remaining silent on such a crucial issue concerning terminally ill patients, the Centre is trying to abdicate its legislative responsibility and passing the buck on the judiciary. To make the guidelines on Living Will more workable and less cumbersome, the top court has done away with the provision of getting a magistrate’s approval for withdrawing life support to a terminally ill person. The document will now be signed by the executor of the Living Will in the presence of two attesting witnesses, preferably independent, and attested before a notary or Gazetted Officer. A five-judge bench, headed by KM Joseph, was considering a plea seeking modification of the guidelines for the Living Will/Advance Medical Directive issued by it in 2018. While anyone over the age of 16 years can make a Living Will in India, registering such a will has proven to be an arduous task. It is this procedure that the court seeks to simplify now.
The SC’s 2018 verdict, allowing passive euthanasia and recognising the right to die with dignity as a fundamental right in the spirit of Article 21, was truly landmark and reflected sensitivity and maturity. The judicial approval for Living Will came as a huge relief for those who want to exit this world with dignity instead of prolonging their suffering by extending the life support system in an incurable vegetative condition. They can authorise any relative or friend to decide, in consultation with medical experts, when to pull the plug. While seeking to find a balance in the relationship between life, death and morality, the court rightly pointed out that burdening a dying patient with life-prolonging treatment would be destructive of his or her dignity and in such a situation individual interest has to be given priority over state’s interest. Legitimising the system of Living Will would free the family members and doctors of the moral dilemma over how long to continue the life support system in clinically irretrievable cases.
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